UPDATE: Lilly forecasts earnings below analyst expectations

Eli Lilly and Co. on Wednesday forecast earnings for 2015 that missed analyst predictions, even as the Indianapolis-based drugmaker said sales will rebound, led by medications for diabetes, oncology and animal health.

Sales this year will be $20.3 billion to $20.8 billion, while adjusted earnings will be $3.10 to $3.20 a share, the company said in a statement.

That would represent as much as 17-percent growth from its forecast for 2014 earnings of between $2.72 and $2.80 per share. However, analysts had predicted sales of $21 billion and adjusted earnings of $3.36 a share, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Lilly had said that last year would the company’s low point after losing exclusive sales rights to several top drugs. The drugmaker lost patent protection in late 2013 for antidepressant Cymbalta, and for osteoporosis drug Evista last year. Cymbalta once pulled in about $5 billion in annual global revenue.

Lilly shares declined in pre-market trading after the announcement, falling 72 cents, or 1 percent, to $69 each, but rose to $70.01 shortly after the market opened Wednesday.

The company struck an upbeat tone in the announcement, saying it has a plan in place to increase revenue and expand profit margins through the remainder of the decade with help from new drugs, existing products, cost-cutting and the company's growing animal health business. On Jan. 1, Lilly said it finished its $5.4 billion acquisition of the animal health division belonging to Swiss drugmaker Novartis.

The lower-than-expected forecast was not a complete surprise, given that it involved uncertainties like foreign exchange rates and the impact of the Novartis deal, said Dr. Tim Anderson, an analyst who covers the company for BernsteinResearch.

"We are successfully moving from a challenging period of patent expirations to a period of resumed growth," CEO John C. Lechleiter said in the statement. "We are launching new products and competing more effectively. We also retain one of the strongest pipelines in our history.

"Our refined strategic direction gives us a blueprint that will provide greater focus for our research and commercial activities and help Lilly respond to an ever more challenging environment. In these ways and more, we'll continue to create value for all our stakeholders while improving the lives of patients."

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